Societies of Things

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Societies of Things

Wednesday 4C

Convener: Phil Windley

Notes-taker(s): Phil Windley

Tags for the session - technology discussed/ideas considered:

Discussion notes, key understandings, outstanding questions, observations, and, if appropriate to this discussion: action items, next steps:


  • Social animals form dynamic relationships to accomplish goals without central planning
  • This is what we want out of a useful Internet of Things


  • ZeroConf - interact without owner programming, etc.
  • Independent -  thrive in environments where we encounter and interact other independent agents—even when those agents are potentially harmful or even malicious

Culture and Societies

  • Cultures are default decision systems
  • Gharajedaghi defines civilization as follows:

  ...civilization is the emergent outcome of the interaction between culture (the software) and technology. Technology is universal, proliferating with no resistance, whereas cultures are local, resisting change with tenacity.

Example: My Electric Car

As a small example of this, consider the following example: suppose I buy an electric car. The car needs to negotiate charging times with the air conditioner, home entertainment system, and so on. The charging time might change every day. There are several hard problems in that scenario, but the one I want to focus on is group forming. Several things need to happen:

  • The car must know that it belongs to me. Or, more generally, it has to know it's place in the world.
  • The car must be able to discover societies with a cultural fit (e.g. that there's a group of things that also belong to me and care about power management.)
  • Other things in that society must be able to dynamically evaluate the trustworthiness of the car.
  • Members of the group (including the car) must be able to adjust their interactions with each other on the basis of their individual calculations of trustworthiness.
  • The car may encounter other devices that misrepresent themselves and their intentions (whether due to fault or outright maliciousness).
  • Occasionally, unexpected, even unforeseen events will happen (e.g. a power outage). The car will have to adapt.

We could extend this situation to a group of devices that don't all belong to the same owner too. For example, I'm at my friend's house and want to charge the car.


  • Decentralized and heterarchical
  • Dynamic
  • Event-driven and reactive
  • Robust, perhaps anti-fragile
  • Trust building
  • Safety over security (protect rather than prevent)

Trustworthy spaces

  • conceptual
  • discoverable culture (we do power management negotiation, car's self-image aligns with this)
  • default policies
  • join and leave at will
  • reputation - provenance and reciprocity

Culture provides a means for devices that are introduced to a household to self organize around common interests.


  • Arbiters
  • Legal can't override to achieve goals. Culture can be
  • vulnerability tradeoff and trust
  • translation between signals and protocols from different devices